“At the very moment when we need faith the most, it can seem most elusive.”
The man who wrote these words is losing his eyesight, and I’d begun reading his book on suffering only a day or two before the news of a mass shooting at the Sunday morning service of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs broke. The day after, heart aching from all I’d heard and read, that line in my morning reading rang cold and clear.
Each brutal detail about the tragedy not only revealed incomprehensible pain in the small Texas town, but reminded a splintered nation of a litany of the slaughters of our innocents in recent years. I didn’t wish to dull the ache I was feeling but to hold it in my heart, knowing that ache couldn’t compare to the pain in the little town so far away from me, but at least it would help me remember to pray.
I continued reading Father Robert Spitzer’s The Light Shines on in the Darkness: Transforming Suffering through Faith. I stayed with the ache in my heart and read on, prayed on.
Then I turned to Andrew Peterson’s “In the Night,” a dark, grittily determined song on my playlist of hope and perseverance. I played it and hummed its melancholy tune and sang the words for the victims in Texas and all of us watching the fallout on our screens. I offered it for the families of all the other shootings retraumatized by this latest tragedy. And, closer to home, I offered it for the children I work with every day who live with domestic violence and drug abuse and parental incarceration. Some of them turn for stress relief to video games in which they shoot imaginary people for fun, and I can’t help but worry for their future.
In the night, my hope lives on.
Andrew Peterson, whose poetic feel is among the best I’ve encountered in contemporary Christian songwriting, selects the biblical accounts of Jacob’s wrestling, Elisha’s lonely desperation and the Hebrew slaves groaning under the Egyptian whips to remind us that desperate times are by definition, desperate, but that in those darkest hours we are not alone.
“In the Night” then turns to the New Testament, to the Prodigal Son, who “thought he’d gone beyond forgiveness” but “if he could lift his head, he would see his father running from the distance.” We then see Christ backing down the men about to stone the woman caught in adultery and our hearts begin to lift even as the grim melody advances. We know where it’s headed: to the scorned Son of Mary, beaten crucified and buried:
and in the night, my hope was gone.
And the afterward must again be told because His story is unlike any other. His cross was not His end. In fact:
They did not take his life–he laid it down
All the chains of earth could never hope to hold him
So in the night my hope lives on.
You have to hear this song’s driving melody, the acoustic guitar’s intense solo riff, the aching tune that does not lift even when the hope of final victory is spoken. We call it hope for a reason: it is not realized yet. But in the night our hope lives on.
Back to my morning read and the man losing his eyesight while he offers his life energies to help souls draw closer to Christ. When Father Robert Spitzer speaks of suffering, he knows what he’s talking about. He understands very well that at times when we need faith most it can seem most elusive. Yet his growing darkness hasn’t changed his mind.
Rather, Spitzer is gathering a mounting base of evidence for faith and it’s available at the website of the Magis Center, whose mission is “to restore, reconstruct, and revitalize belief in God, the transcendent dignity of every human person, the significance of virtue, the higher levels of happiness, love, and freedom; and the real presence of Jesus Christ.”
Spitzer, formerly the president of Gonzaga University, calls his current endeavor “rational evangelization.” He asserts in The Light Shines on in the Darkness: Transforming Suffering through Faith, that while faith is essentially a matter of the heart, the minds of many of us require a rational basis to proceed. He is simplifying the search for those pursuing transcendent truth.
“In the Night” develops the cry of the heart in dark times; The Light Shines On in the Darkness offers the seeking soul reasons to believe. Spitzer focuses intensely on the cornerstone of Peterson’s hope: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
All serious Christians understand that without the resurrection we are nothing. St. Paul himself argued in speaking to first century Christians, “if Christ is not risen…your faith is in vain.”
I’m grateful for Peterson’s song because in times of crushing despair and mounting fear, art like his is necessary. I’m grateful for Spitzer’s book and the work of the Magus Center because rationality is necessary as well.
I have a playlist of hope not because I’m looking to escape sorrow. I’m reaching for a reminder of what I’ve already come to believe through my own search for faith, through living with it and through facing doubt in the descent of dark times.
“In the Night” reminds me of just how long this struggle has been going on. Our times may differ from times past in that we now have access to weapons that make the slaughter of innocents easier to achieve, but goodness has never advanced in this world without a fight.
I cannot understand an evil that takes innocent life, but I believe that Innocent Life itself declared unity with all other innocents when He faced evil down on the Cross. Resurrected Goodness will triumph in God’s time and reveal an “eternal weight of glory” beyond all comparison.
And in the night, my hope lives on.
Optimism doesn’t mean everything is rosy. It means things can change. For more, see Curmudgeon vs. Pollyanna: The Case for Realistic Optimism.
Andrew Peterson is the founder of the Rabbit Room, “a community of songwriters, authors, and artists interested in storytelling, faith, and fellowship.” Visit the site for a rich offering of beautiful faith-based reflection on all aspects of culture including music, literature and film. Peterson has also written a four-volume fantasy for young readers called The Wingfeather Saga, to be released as a short film on December 26.
Suffering is ultimately meaningless unless the resurrection is true. The Light Shines on in the Darkness is the fourth and final volume in a series Father Spitzer has written to develop a rational basis for faith. I began there, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first four volumes of the Quartet–Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts (1), The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason (2), and God So Loved the World: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from the Revelation of Jesus (3).
Discerning Hearts’ Kris McGregor interviews Father Spitzer about The Light Shines on in the Darkness on the Inside the Pages podcast here. Inside the Pages has featured the first three volumes of the Quartet as well. You can subscribe to Inside the Pages on iTunes and Stitcher or download the Discerning Hearts app on both Apple and Android devices for easy access to a surprising array of profound spiritual content.
Here’s the song that inspired this meditation:
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